Human Exceptionalism

Should Animals Be Patented?

I am no fan of anti-vivisection societies given that I believe medical research using animals is scientifically necessary and (usually) a profoundly humanitarian work, and these groups seek to end such activities. That being said, I do think they can provide a valuable contribution to society by acting as watchdogs over what scientific laboratories do to animals. This is in keeping with our human duty to treat animals humanely and properly–whether in research, when raised for food, or as pets.

The American Anti-Vivisection Society and Patent Watch may have a point in their joint challenge against the patenting of animals who have been injured or sickened. From the AAVS press release:

This week the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced a decision to open an investigation into whether rabbits and other animals whose eyes have been purposefully damaged can be patented. The patent (#6,924,413) which is being challenged by the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS), the Alternatives Research & Development Foundation (ARDF), and PatentWatch, argues that animals are not patentable subjects and that, in fact, animal patents provide an incentive to harm animals for economic gain…

The groups’ first challenge to an animal patent succeeded in having the University of Texas drop its patent claims on beagles who were severely sickened and infected with mold. In addition, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that animals could not be patented, further challenging the legitimacy of animal patents in the U.S. “Animal patents have no place in our society and are an inappropriate application of U.S. patent law. A rabbit with damaged eyes is still a rabbit,” said Tracie Letterman, an attorney and Executive Director of AAVS.

Of course the primary point of challenges such as this is to make research more difficult. Moreover, I make it a point never to accept these groups’ assertions about what is done to animals at face value. But I do think that an injured animal is not a human invention, and thus probably should not be patentable.

That does not mean, of course, that research using those animals would (or should) stop, just that one lab could not prevent another lab from using animals in research in the same manner. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.